When you first look at Google App Inventor for Android, it may not look like much. That is to say, it’s ugly. But as with many Google services, beneath a layer of homeliness, there appears to be much more under the surface. In this case, it could be a very big gateway drug for Android app development. Or is it a Doomsday device that will muck up native app development on the platform?
The service, unveiled tonight in the New York Times, is basically a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) tool for app development on the Android platform. Instead of having to learn code (in Android’s case, Java), App Inventor is a piece of software that allows you to drag and drop certain elements common to many apps to build a mobile app from scratch.
To use App Inventor, you do not need to be a developer. App Inventor requires NO programming knowledge. This is because instead of writing code, you visually design the way the app looks and use blocks to specify the app’s behavior.
That sounds great — on paper. As NYT notes, it has been tested with kids as young as sixth graders who were able to easily make their own apps. It also makes it easy for “regular” people to make apps. But as many web developers will tell you, the rise of WYSIWYG editors in their field led to an explosion of shitty websites.
Tools like Dreamweaver and eventually online WYSIWYG HTML editors from the likes of Geocities, made it so easy for anyone to create webpages that the web quickly filled up with garbage. Thankfully (and appropriately), Google popped up to restore a sense of order to the madness with Pagerank and its search engine. This allowed people to wade through the junk and still be able to find the quality sites.
So is that what App Inventor is going to do for Android? Create a flood of crappy apps?
Maybe. But there’s a flip-side to this as well.